We live during times of uncertainty. Decrease in consumption and rising unemployment discourage banks from provide loans and consequently reduce the amount of cash in circulation. We have no choice but to save, cut spending, settle for less, reorganise our work and life.
Although real estate will always be one of the safest investments, there’s another, equally important factor. The social one. Being concerned about our families, friends and ourselves we decided to stay home. We have seen frightening pictures from Italy, Spain and other European countries and we did not want to witness similar images here. How has that changed the way we act and made decisions?
Is it a good time to sell your apartment? Is it wise to buy a house now? Should I let prospective buyers into my apartment to view it? These were very serious questions our clients have been asking for the last several weeks.
The business model
Hamilton May is a boutique real estate agency operating in Warsaw and Krakow. Our estate agents work both with individuals and funds, dealing with property sales, rentals and management. The residential market is our main area of expertise, but we also feel confident on office lease market. We have tailored our services towards expatriates, professionals and investors, often bridging the gap between domestic supply and foreign demand.
Within this model, the traditional B2B-B2C demarcation is not always applicable. Sure, these two require different business strategies, sales techniques and marketing channels. But our real estate services are delivered by people to people on a close, personal level. Representing property buyers requires building trust. While a handshake and face-to-face meeting became impossible or at least difficult, we applied different means of staying connected.
The safety of everyone involved has become a priority. As much as we felt having our team educated was crucial, we think keeping the clients informed and prepared is equally important. Lead agent, a single point of contact, is assigned to each enquiry to assist in the process, arrange listing the property or conduct a property search.
We arrange the property photo shoots without the owner present and with the photographer equipped with PPE. The owner is asked to clean/disinfect the property prior to the photoshoot. Whenever physical presence is required, we request the landlord to maintain social distancing
Years of working with foreign parties has taught us that physical distance is not necessarily a barrier. We are experienced in conducting virtual viewings. The agents may present desired properties remotely using popular means such as Messenger, WhatsApp, Facetime or any software of choice. If necessary, a face-to-face meeting is conducted with all the safety rigours. We have made significant steps forward in internal communication, switching to remote team meetings via the Teams application and implemented a series of quick adaptations to our CRM to make it more tailored towards remote working.
The market today
Things have slowed down world-wide. Enquiries we are receiving are fewer but more serious. Many buyers have put the transactions on hold to see how the crisis plays out. There is, of course, uncertainty about how the market will look moving forward, as some potential buyers expect a significant drop in prices.
This, however, may not be the case. The lower volume of residential sales, being the direct result of government restrictions, results in slowdown and stabilisation rather than rapid changes. The experience of 2008-09 suggests that the biggest cities with Warsaw on the lead may not witness any significant decrease. Low-end and regional markets are more in danger of rapid fluctuations.
Another factor influencing the regular market is a sudden oversupply of small units originally designed for the short-term rentals market. Our Krakow office in particular has witnessed a portion of new instructions for such apartments on our books. We have noticed tenants expecting landlords to lower rental prices as a condition to renew their lease. At this moment tenants looking for apartments on the regular market have more options to choose from, especially given that foreign demand has been frozen. It is possible however that this is only a temporary anomaly rather than a new trend.
With restrictions regarding movement and travel, we seem to appreciate spacious and intimate properties more than ever. People surely are fed up with being confined to small spaces. Apartments with gardens or detached houses located in the outskirts of the city have more value now in comparison even to the luxurious, top floor but smaller units in the city centres.
The importance of relations
Distancing from others and appreciating lower volume of leads, we could still do good for ourselves, our business and our future. For better or worse, we knew from the very beginning of the lockdown, that some of our competitors and partners in the industry may not make through it. We have recently heard of a huge franchise real estate agency going bankrupt. We knew that strong, stable and trustworthy agents will be needed more than ever when this is over. But ‘when this is over’ remains unknown.
Even during the hardest part, there was still plenty of good we could do. Being locked down, we appreciated our existing relations. The importance of reaction time and information flow became more important than ever. Even more attention was paid to working with the portfolio. We use the slowdown time to organise the database or work on optimising our system solutions. Our agents are also in daily contact with our clients as we want to give them a feeling that they can count on our help. During the times of uncertainty, we feel responsibility.
People in the company might have felt isolated, which is why it was very important for us to stay together. We have built the business based on the teamwork. Meetings that would normally take place in the office were moved online. It gave us the feeling that we manage in a new reality we live in. Times will be challenging but we feel ready. And although the phones in the office began to ring more often as soon as the first restrictions were lifted, things were put into perspective. Such an approach helped us manage through the hardest part of the crisis, and will drive us until it ends.